This is going to be an on-going series this summer, analyzing specific points in Rangers’ history that had significant impact on the future of the club, and looking at the flip side, and what could have happened if the Rangers went in another direction.
The summer of 2007 was one of change for the Rangers. Fresh off a rough second round loss to the Buffalo Sabres, in which Chris Drury scored with 7.7 seconds left to tie Game 5, with winning in OT and then winning Game 6 to close out the Rangers.
That crushing loss came at a time the Rangers were at a crossroads. Michael Nylander’s contract was up. Jaromir Jagr had one year left on his deal, ditto Martin Straka. With Nylander gone, the Blueshirts were looking at Matt Cullen as their 1C, and no one behind him. Brandon Dubinsky appeared in 6 regular season games, but he was no guarantee at that point.
Drury, Danny Briere, and Scott Gomez were the prizes of the free agent market, and it was no secret that the Rangers were going to go after at least one of them. They eventually landed both Drury and Gomez, later trading Cullen to free up the cap space ($2.875 million).
But there was a chance neither Drury nor Briere hit the market. Sabres ownership meddled in hockey operations, and because of this lost both of their prized centers, who both wanted to stay in Buffalo.
Today I learned that in 2007, Buffalo only needed to commit $5m each to Briere and Drury to keep them both. Owner balked and screwed it up. Imagine the ineptitude to let your 1/2Cs walk bc you meddled when you shouldn't have.https://t.co/M0sACQC3rH
— David Shapiro (@BlueSeatBlogs) July 9, 2019
What if Buffalo retained their centers, and the Rangers only landed Scott Gomez?
Let’s assume here that the Rangers still got Gomez to be their 1C. That leaves Cullen as the 2C, a role in which the Blueshirts appeared comfortable the season prior. Dubinsky would be the rookie getting 3C minutes. Center depth, while not as strong as adding Drury, would still be strong, and the Rangers would have an additional $7 million in cap space.
Let’s also assume that there won’t be a significant standings change for the Rangers here. Cullen still put up 49 points in that first season with Carolina, with another 20-goal, 40-point season after that. There wasn’t a significant drop-off there.
But it’s the 2009 offseason that changes things.
Do the Rangers need to clear the cap space if they don’t have Drury? Drury’s cap hit was $7.05 million. It’s not as easy as a one-for-one swap with Gaborik here, since you have to factor in Cullen’s $2.875 million.
Lest we forget Chris Higgins and his $2.25 million cap hit. He came over in that cap shedding deal as well, and it basically offsets the Cullen factor. Now assuming my math is right, the Rangers are only at a $600,000 differential. No need to deal Gomez. Perhaps it even prevents the Rangers from signing Donald Brashear to that ill-advised two-year contract. Unfortunately Ales Kotalik still happens, but that’s inconsequential here.
Picture, for a second, Gomez centering Gaborik. Seems nice, right? Guess that means the Rangers don’t need to sign Brad Richards?
But that means no Gomez for McDonagh. No cornerstone defenseman. No future captain. What do the Rangers do on the blue line? Does that force them to keep Michael Del Zotto, instead of trading him for Kevin Klein? Do they go after a big name defenseman in a subsequent free agent frenzy?
Do the Black-and-Blueshirts come into existence under John Tortorella? Does the Gaborik/Tortorella rift exist if it’s Gomez feeding Gaborik passes?
Do the Rangers still trade for Rick Nash? Does this mean the Rangers don’t trade Gaborik to Columbus for a package that included Derick Brassard and John Moore? Moore was included in that Keith Yandle deal a few years later. Without Brassard, do the Rangers have Mika Zibanejad today?
Do the Rangers, riding McDonagh as their 1D, still get to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014? The Eastern Conference Final in 2015?
We do know that the 2018 fire sale deal, that saw McDonagh sent to Tampa with JT Miller for Vlad Namestnikov, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, and picks that became Nils Lundkvist and Karl Henriksson, doesn’t happen. Does the Nash fire sale deal still happen?
Not to mention that Drury currently holds a front office position with the Rangers as well.
One ownership screw up in Buffalo. Ten years of impact for the Rangers. And counting.